The Coalition’s renewable energy targets do not outweigh value of the beauty of the English countryside, a High Court judge said yesterday as she rejected planning permission for a wind farm.
The Coalition is obliged to boost the amount of energy from renewables as part of climate change targets imposed by Europe.
This will mean more than doubling the amount of energy from onshore wind over the next ten years and building at least another 5,000 wind turbines onshore.
Sea Land and Power Ltd argued that the wind farm near Gt Yarmouth would help to meet these targets.
However Justice Laing said the target cannot take precedence over natural beauty.
In a judgment handed down at the Administrative Court she backed both the local councils and conservation groups in rejecting the plans.
“As a matter of law it is not correct to assert that the national policy promoting the use of renewable resources … negates the local landscape policies or must be given ‘primacy’ over them,” she said.
Both Great Yarmouth Borough Council and a Government Planning Inspector kicked rejected the wind farm, finding that further turbines in the area would threaten its character and natural beauty.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) expressed concerns about the potential impact of the wind turbines on important local populations of pink footed geese and marsh harriers, although the charity later withdrew its objections.
Mrs Justice Lang backed their decisions in a vital ruling for the hundreds of contested wind farms around the country.
Despite recognising the benefits of wind generated power, she said the inspector was entitled to her view that they were, in this case, outweighed by the “material harm” the development would cause to the “character and appearance” of a sensitive area.
“This is simply a case of policies pulling in different directions: harm to landscape and the benefits of renewable energy. The inspector was required to have regard to both sets of policies and to undertake a balancing exercise”.
In its planning application, Sea & Land argued the 105m-high turbines, along with supporting infrastructure, would supply power to more than 5,000 homes.
Previously judges have cited the Government’s target to generate 15 per cent of renewable energy from renewables by 2020 as a reason for giving the go-ahead to wind farms.
In a recent ruling, the Planning Inspectorate gave permission to a wind farm near a 16th Century Manor Lyveden New Bield in Northamptonshire, despite protests from the National Trust and English Heritage, because of the national need for “clean energy”.
A spokesman for the Campaign to Protect Rural England said the recent ruling reversed this trend.
He pointed out that new planning rules, that the Telegraph campaigned to make stronger, insist the intrinsic value of the countryside has to be considered in any planning decision – so this kind of ruling could happen more often.
“It is important we meet our climate change targets and wind is part of that but there are two environmental goods here – there is cutting carbon and there is the beauty and tranquillity of our landscape. We think it is possible to meet our targets without wrecking the countryside.
“This judgment shows it is tricky but you cannot just trash countryside to meet carbon targets – there must be a balance.”
Rob Norris of RenewableUK, that represents the wind industry, said decisions on wind farms are always balanced between the need for energy and protecting the environment.
He argued that decisions are being made in favour of wind because the industry has proven that it has a viable case.
“To talk, as the judge does, of either side of the debate having primacy over the other is to miss the point – we are happy to debate our case as we believe it is a strong one – generating clean energy, creating thousands of jobs, using a secure home-grown source of energy which will never run out, so that we can tackle climate change and pass on a low-carbon legacy to our children and our grandchildren.”
The UK already has more than 3,500 turbines onshore and offshore and 800 more will be completed this year alone. By 2020, the industry hope to have built around 10,000 in total onshore alone in order to meet Government targets.
A DECC spokesman said: “Planning applications for onshore wind farms can be, and have been, turned down due to landscape and visual amenity concerns.
“The National Planning Policy Framework is clear about the importance of protecting the natural and historic environment, while supporting the delivery of appropriately-sited renewable and low carbon energy.”
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